Khawaja Asif is an honourable man who has done a very dishonourable deed. Desperate measures in desperate times by desperate men usually end up badly. This is what has happened to the blistering but cringe-worthy attack on Imran Khan by the PML-N MNA from Sialkot.

The allegations themselves will slowly fade away into political oblivion, but the wound will not heal so swiftly. Khawaja Asif will find it hard to live down this sorry episode. The attack aimed to maim Imran Khan will leave deeper scars on Mr Asif’s political stature, and affect his own party’s credibility.

So what was the good Khawaja thinking?

Pressure makes men do funny things. And pressure is what the PML-N is feeling. In many ways, the party leadership has made a mess of its politics. Flip-flopping on issues, blowing hot then cold against the government, threatening long marches and resignations and then retreating into hibernation, the party which was once seen as the government-in-waiting is now struggling to come up with a viable, coherent and clear message.

In other words, the party is haunted by its own contradictions. What does the PML-N stand for today? Even within the party, many may not have the answer.

Add to this, the woes of performance anxiety in Punjab. Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif may be the hardest working politician of all, but he has precious little to show for his four-year reign. His men would list out forgettable achievements, but what stands out in public memory are disasters like Sasti Roti scheme. If governance pressures were not bad enough, fissures within the party have ruptured like a wound stitched up by a bad doctor. The very bitter and acrimonious divorce from the Khosas has dented the party more than it is willing to admit.

All is clearly not well in the House that Sharif built.

Outfoxed by the wily President, and squeezed within their own backyard by the menacing rise of Imran Khan, the Sharifs have been forced to play on other people’s wicket. Gone are the swagger and the uber-confidence that party stalwarts exuded before the PTI juggernaut rammed into them on October 30 last year. Khawaja Asif epitomised this cocksure attitude that his party men wore on their sleeves.

He’s had reason to. Since the early 1990s Mr Asif has been digging out scams and exposing them in Parliament. In the process, he acquired a reputation of a man in the know of things. With a solid professional background in finance, he knew where to look for irregularities and how to make sense of them. As a backbencher in the parliaments of the 1990s, he was hyperactive and effective, and slowly emerged as a frontline leader for his party. Competent, clean and conscientious, Mr Asif was taken very seriously whenever he spoke on the floor of the House, or in the media. Within the party too, he gradually acquired centre stage and was admitted into the very close Sharif circle. The Musharraf years burnished his credentials even more as a forceful and vocal parliamentarian.

By the time Sharifs returned to Pakistan, Mr Asif had become a heavyweight in Pakistani politics.  Always confident - bordering on cocky - he relentlessly pursued corruption cases in the Supreme Court, and won repeatedly. It seemed the man could do no wrong.

Until now. Ever since Imran Khan’s blockbuster rally in Lahore, the PML-N leaders were going around saying PTI was a seasonal phenomenon that would blow over. First they dismissed Khan as an ISI creation, then they condescendingly called him a political flyboy who had peaked too soon, and finally they branded him an ‘Establishment’ child whose popularity would wither away once General Ahmad Shuja Pasha faded from scene. But this public posturing did not hide a growing concern within the party that the Imran threat had been taken too lightly.

He had to be sorted out the traditional way.

And who better to dig up financial dirt than Mr Asif. The objective was clear: hit Imran where it hurts. The logic went like this: if “Mr Clean” can be damaged through allegations of financial impropriety, the very foundations of his politics would start to crumble. Once Imran is perceived as just another politician, he would lose his political sheen and will be forced to play on the traditional wicket. The PML-N had in mind the devastating impact of the Sita White scandal, which the party had hurled at Imran in 1997. The scandal had crippled Imran’s electoral prospects in 1997. If the PML-N could do it then, why not now?

 But times change. Situations change. Men change. PML-N did not. Khawaja Asif did not. Now they are paying for this humungous blunder.

The charges framed by Mr Asif against Imran Khan are not just laughable, they betray a poor understanding of how charitable institutions and their endowment funds work. One did not expect Mr Asif to be so shoddy with his homework, and so short-sighted and malicious in his approach. It is now clear that Imran Khan had no say in the decisions made by the board of the fund to make investments. Equally clear is the fact that no corruption or money laundering was involved anywhere. At the worst, some bad investment decisions were made, but this is hardly the stuff that scandals are made of.

Khawaja Asif swung blindly, and punched himself in the face.

The fiasco has exposed many. Mr Asif has diminished his own stature and depleted his credibility as someone who knows what he is talking about. His gravitas has shrunk. His party has also confirmed its desperation in face of the PTI threat. In doing so, it has reignited fears that it will stop at nothing to damage its opponents, and that worse may be in store. The PML-N has enveloped itself in a very foul political smell. And finally, Khawaja Asif’s blunder has provided PTI and Imran Khan a higher moral ground, which he and his party are now using with devastating effect to damage Sharifs’ financial standing.

So next time you want to know what it feels like to bite off more than you can chew - and then choke on it - go ask Khawaja Asif!

The writer is the host of “Tonight with Fahd” on Waqt News.


Twitter: @fahdhusain